If yours is not already one of the many independent pizza outlets offering your customers a loyalty program, it’s certainly something you should seriously consider.
There’s no doubt that these programs not only do much to encourage repeat business — they’re also helpful in generating first-time customers, as consumer research has shown diners are more likely to choose a food outlet offering a loyalty program over one that doesn’t.
In recent years the advent of mobile digital technology has led to changes in the way loyalty programs can be marketed. These days there are so many methods of communicating with your customers, from Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to restaurant reviews and online ordering services. People taking photos of their meals and posting them on Instagram means that every diner is now a potential reviewer, sharing their experience with other potential customers.
While the rise of social media has brought with it many potential headaches, especially having to deal with malicious and unfair reviews, it has also made it easier to publicise your loyalty program, connect with your customers and offer them ‘rewards’ for their repeated patronage of your business.
The smart approach is to think of your loyalty program as a component of your business marketing strategy. For many of today’s consumers, interactivity is key - not only do they want to be able to share their dining experience with friends, they’re only too happy to give you feedback (as the numerous comments on restaurant Facebook pages makes clear).
An effective loyalty program will engage these customers and encourage their repeat business.
The basic loyalty program allows customers to accumulate points for each meal and rewards them once they have reached a certain number. The reward can be a discounted or free meal, or even a giveaway or gift.
In setting up your program you need to consider the most effective and easy way of keeping tracks of the points — easy not just for you, but for your customers to use.
You also need to make sure that whatever you’re offering as a reward is appealing enough to incentivize customers, so they will keep coming back to accumulate enough points to earn it.
To make sure this is the case, you need to have an awareness of your customer base — their interests, aspirations and tastes. Customer surveys can help to get some of this information, as can setting up a Facebook page for your business and reading the posts that your customers place on it.
You could trial a limited-time promotion linked to the customer survey — this will help encourage participation, and is also a way of ascertaining the popularity of whatever you offer as a reward.
Among the most effective loyalty programs are those which include the following:
* Tests of skill and games of chance
Games which test customers’ abilities or create a sense of competition are a great way of exciting interest. These can range from scratch cards to sports trivia questions or even a reward which accompanies the 100th (or other nominated number of your choice) customer to purchase a particular menu item or special. You might even encourage your customers to enter a raffle for prizes or other games of chance.
* Donating to a good cause
Not all rewards have to be ones which directly benefit your customers. The opportunity to contribute to good causes can provide a strong incentive for customers to participate in in-store programs and encourage ongoing loyalty and repeat business. Some establishments have been successful at implementing programs whereby once a customer has dined at their business a certain number of times, they will donate to a local charity or community cause on the customer’s behalf (for example, providing food for school fetes etc). This also demonstrates to your customers your good corporate citizenship and shows you care about others.
* Recognition of special events in your customers’ lives
Offering a free or discounted meal on your customers’ birthdays, wedding anniversaries or other special occasions is very effective at building and retaining loyalty. It also provides an opportunity for you to build up a database of customer contact information which you can use for marketing purposes, as customers wanting to take advantage of your offer will understand the need to fill out a form listing their date of birth, wedding date etc along with their name and email address. You can also utilise mobile technology apps to enable customers to fill in and submit this kind of information via their smartphones, ipads or other PDAs.
* Integration within online marketing
As outlined above a loyalty program can be helpful in capturing customer contact data. You can also communicate your program via regular e-newsletters which can be sent to customers via email or accessed via their smartphone or PDA, making the loyalty program a component within a broader online marketing campaign. Not only will this enable you to build a bigger customer database, it can also help encourage new business as customers tend to share such information with their friends — especially if you include interesting info such as meal specials and appetising food photography.
* Personal acknowledgement of customers
Everyone prefers personalised communication to mass mailouts, so take advantage of the information you have accumulated on your customers to personally wish them a happy birthday, Merry Christmas and so on. Personalised greetings cards or emails, especially at festive times of the year, are a great way of showing customers how much you value their business, and we all like to feel appreciated.
* Partnering with other businesses
One way you can expand the range of rewards you’re able to offer is by partnering with a neighbouring or local business, such as offering a movie and meal deal in conjunction with a local cinema. For example you might offer customers a free movie pass with their tenth meal at your restaurant or a 10 per cent discount on meals for customers who have just come from the cinema and can show their ticket.
As mentioned earlier the most commonly offered reward is a free or discounted meal. Also becoming popular are rewards of products such as ipads, as these can be accumulated via your own participation in a restaurant manager’s rewards program such as that offered by Foodservice Rewards (www.foodservicerewards.com) - you accumulate points for your business through your purchase of ingredient stocks, and can redeem these if desired for products which you can then use for customer giveaways.
You can also give some consideration to what else your business can offer customers as a reward for loyalty. This might include recipes of popular menu dishes, a cookbook (especially one which features similar cuisine to that offered in your business) or even a cooking lesson from your chef! Rewards like this are often unusual and therefore more special for your customers.